File image of Nitish Kumar | Flickr
File image of Nitish Kumar | Flickr
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Nitish Kumar spoke in favour of 50 per cent job reservation in the private sector on the basis of caste, and called for a debate at the national level. In Bihar, he has introduced a caste-based quota in outsourced jobs, which has been called a ‘backdoor entry’ for private sector reservations. Uday Narayan Choudhary, a JD-U leader, has questioned the legality of private sector reservations.

Is Nitish Kumar’s proposal for caste-based quotas in the private sector a feasible idea?

What Nitish Kumar has said is not anything new. This issue has been debated and discussed since the 2000s. Now, with Nitish’s statement, there’ll be yet another series of debates on this issue, but we will have to see what tangible action is taken on ground.

Several Dalit politicians have stressed the need for reservations in the private sector. Back when Manmohan Singh was prime minister and Meira Kumar was social justice minister, there were a lot of differences between the three main industrial associations — CII, FICCI, ASSOCHAM and the government over this issue. It was finally decided that the government doesn’t need to create a mandate by law, but that the industry itself would take the initiative for affirmative action.

Dr Jamshed Irani led an industrial committee, which held consultations to design an affirmative action agenda, and this was submitted to the government in April 2006. The Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry has thus been trying to use this to partner with CII and other mainstream industrial groups to push for affirmative action.

Here are other sharp perspectives on private sector reservation:

Rupa Subramanya: Co-author of Indianomix
Chandra Bhan Prasad: Dalit entrepreneur and author
Anand Teltumbde: Writer, civil rights activist
Cynthia Stephen: Social policy analyst on gender and caste issues

Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale, among others, say there should be reservations in the private sector. But no one has brought the matter to the discussion table. Post 2006, the industry said that the government doesn’t need to create a legislation on this matter, and we’ll take it forward.

Thus, the 4E initiative was created, and you’ll even find CII’s report on affirmative action: Education, Employability, Employment and Entrepreneurship. So this commitment was already made — 10 years ago in 2006. The government should first review this.

Countries around the world have affirmative action and supplier diversity programmes. In the US, there are well-instituted policies for this. There is no compulsion for their corporations, but people do it. If you Google “Affirmative Action in the USA”, or “supplier diversity in the USA”, you’ll see the ways in which companies out there are working for social and financial inclusion of minorities. They call it minorities, while here we say scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. If they can do it, then why are we not doing anything here in India?

They have the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), which works on capacity-building for minority suppliers. On a similar scale, the government here created the National SC/ST Entrepreneurs Hub. But while I’m the Chairman of its Advisory Board, it is currently serving the function of only optics, and I can only hope that actionable steps are soon taken up.

Milind Kamble is the founder of Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry

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